Every day, sometimes every minute, we wonder how we could possibly see something cooler than we did the day (or the minute) before. So far, we’ve not been disappointed. Tuesday was a Wake Up with a Whale Day. A gorgeous humpback swam by to say Good Morning, and it was another beautiful morning. I expected Antarctica to have…. well, Antarctic weather, but we’ve had blue skies and warm (30’s F, 0 C) temperatures. With a week and a half to go, I don’t want to jinx us, but wait til you see our bright, brilliant pictures. Glorious.
It admittedly is hard to take a bad photograph here with the weather and the subject matter, but we do have exceptional photographers on board. Fede sent Bertrand, Annie, and Katherine on the Zodiac to take photos of the Ocean Tramp in the morning luminosity as we sailed out of Foyn Harbour. With rugged snow-covered mountains, massive glaciers, and icebergs all around, the pictures are stunning, as you can see.
We were all excited to go to Wilhelmina Bay, which is supposed to be Whale Mecca. The captain of the Nat Geo ship we saw a few days ago told us they saw 140 whales here recently. As we got closer, there was more and more sea ice on the water. In the winter, the whole Antarctic Peninsula is surrounded by a layer of ice and snow that can be several meters thick. As it warms up with spring, the snow and ice break up into different size pieces… or not, which is what we soon encountered. Fede started taking the Ocean Tramp through a mine field of ice chunks like an F1 driver. We went around some, but impressively, smashed through some like a battering ram through a castle door. Bertrand had the drone with a Go Pro flying above us, and the video is the coolest we’ve had so far. It looks like the Ocean Tramp is moving through a sea of coconut chips and flakes and pieces. Even the sound of the bow crunching through the ice was delicious.
We were still in Plata Passage, not even to Wilhelmina Bay yet, so Laura radioed to another boat in the Bay to see if the ice was broken up enough for us to get in. “Sure,” they said, “Come on in, there’s no drama here.” Not sure what they were looking at, but pretty soon, it was clear that it wasn’t clear. There was a solid mass of ice between us and Wilhelmina Bay, which we could see in the distance. Fede said that if it were an emergency, the OT could bash its way through, but this wasn’t an emergency. In fact, we’re not even in a hurry. So the plan was to turn around and head back to Foyn Harbour for another night. A bit disappointed, but we knew we’d get another shot tomorrow. But wait. There’s more.
Fede and Laura spotted a really big ice floe (we’re getting daily lessons in the difference between glaciers and icebergs, sea ice and ice floes). This one was about the size of half a football field and between one and two meters thick. We wanted to hop off the boat onto the ice immediately. (I had actually asked Fede a couple of days before if he thought I could successfully jump from the side of the boat on to an ice floe, and he said no, because Laura wouldn’t allow it. Fair enough.) We tried at first to come alongside the ice, but when Laura deployed the anchor, it smashed through the ice and fell into the water. Instead, we went at the ice headfirst (bow-first, I know). From there, Laura sent the anchor down, Bertrand pulled it farther onto the ice, and flipped it, fluke-side down. The OT wasn’t going anywhere. Like a bunch of little kids, we were over the side onto the ice in a nanosecond. There were headstands (Annie and Katherine), handstands (Bertrand), cartwheels (me), slackline walking on the anchor chain (Miguel), bow-hanging like an ape (Bertrand), posing for magazine covers (Fede and Laura), posing for Christmas card photos (Adam), and seal imitations (Meryl and me). We were laughing our heads off. Survivor Summit teammates, I even have a surprise for you. This is the Livestrong team I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a couple of years ago. I brought our flag from summit day for a photo at the Bottom of the World. Don’t tell them.
Then it was down to serious business again, Whale Experiment Number Five on the way back to Foyn Harbour. It’s funny how any of the rest of us can be on deck and tell Bertrand, “Nope, we don’t see any whales here.” And in 24 seconds, he looks around and say, “Yup, whale over there, over there, over there, and over there.” He’s like the whale whisperer. We saw several whales and got some really good photos for www.happywhale.com (they’re going to love the Ocean Tramp when they get Laura’s email of all of our whale tail photos).
Then, one of the humpbacks swam straight at our boat, under the bow. We could see a circle of bubbles forming from below, making a perfect spiral. Then, the whale came straight up, mouth open to catch all the krill he/she stirred up. THE WHALE WAS BUBBLE FEEDING RIGHT NEXT TO US!! Bertrand says he’s never seen it before. We were delirious.
Sailing back through the ice field again was different. It’s amazing how much the water and ice changed in just a couple of hours. There were even more ice floes than there were on our way out. Juan Pablo Guerrero skillfully angled the boat back into clear water and to the harbour…. where another sailboat was anchored in our place next to the sunken whaling ship AGAIN. This time, instead of tying up next to the little boat, we parked behind it and were going to get to tie off on the old ship after all. However, this required someone (Bertrand) to shinny up the side of the rusted ship and secure ropes between it and us. Bertrand got to the highest point of the ship and caught the rope (on the third try), all while being dive-bombed by Antarctic Terns, which were nesting up there. It was pretty funny to the rest of us. Not so much to BB, probably.
We had a bit of time to kill before dinner, so Annie, Bertrand, Katherine, and I went for a late afternoon spin in the Zodiac. We wove in and out of the icebergs and admired how some of them are white with brilliant veins of electric blue running through them. We saw what looked like giant gray sausages on a chunk of ice in the distance and went to check it out.
It was three adorable Weddell Seals who weren’t afraid of us at all. We got a few photos of them. They’re my favorite seals, and we had just found out in Laura’s HappyWhale school that day that www.happywhale.com is monitoring Weddell Seals as well. I’m pretty psyched to be able to contribute my photos of them as well. The Terns were waiting for us when we got back. As soon as they spotted Bertrand’s red jacket, they started swooping down on us in the Zodiac. I got as far away from Bertrand as I could in the dingy, figuring that the birds were triangulating distance to send down a rain of poop, but they didn’t, and we got back to the OT safe and clean.
All in all another amazing day in a string of amazing days. I feel so lucky to be a part of this crew on this adventure and am so thankful to Laura and Fede for letting me be a part of this. Beef Bourgignon for dinner. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.